Pasta, Recipes, Sides

BBQ Ranch Pasta Salad

So… high school lunch. While most people I know have horror stories of inedible cafeteria food or exciting tales of sneaking off school property to go out for lunch during their high school years, I was fortunate enough to have an open campus… and an entire hour for lunch. It was pretty sweet, I do admit. My lunch hour as a high school student typically were spent one of three ways: 1) going out to lunch with friends, 2) eating a packed lunch at school to attend one of my many extracurricular activity meetings, or 3) going home. Even though I had great friends and thoroughly enjoyed being an involved high school student, as soon as I got my driver’s license and a car, I absolutely adored going home for lunch. It was bit of relaxing bliss during a busy school day. By graduation day [9 years ago…yikes!] I had my routine perfected down to the minute how I would rush through the hallways to get to the parking lot and beat the underclassmen [walking] crowd to my car, quickly making the sometimes tricksy left turn in order to have smooth sailing home… and subsequently, maximum time to heat up leftovers or make a tasty hot lunch at home.

There were many quick meals I made during those high school days–scrambled eggs, grilled cheese, Ramen noodles… you know, the good stuff. These meals had to be quick so I could get back to school on time, but also so I could watch as much of my Mad About You reruns as possible. Oh, and if it was a rerun I’d seen a zillion times, I’d turn on TLC [A Wedding Story=LOVE]. Or some dating game that I now forget the name of. Quality TV at lunch makes for a great day, folks.

But you know what makes for an even better day? A quality lunch, made while watching said reruns on the small kitchen TV, instead of on the comfy family room couch. And as a 17 year old, my idea of the most high quality at-home lunch was…. BBQ Ranch Pasta Salad! And not the version you’re seeing here. That version is almost embarrassing to admit to, because it was pasta + alot of ranch dressing + a little BBQ sauce + some zesty Southwest Mrs. Dash-esque spice blend. That’s it. No veggies, no cheese, no meat, no nothing. It was darn tasty though! In a moment of high school reminiscing last week, I set out to recreate that lunch… in adult style, of course.

This version of BBQ Ranch Pasta Salad brings the old school up to date. Rotini noodles, cooked to al dente perfection are still bathed in a luscious ranch/BBQ sauce blend… but the noodles are whole wheat, and the sauce isn’t quite as thick or overwhelming. A thinner sauce means more room for veggies… and this pasta salad is hearty enough for plenty of raw tomatoes, peppers, corn, and onions. Adding some black beans makes the salad truly hearty enough for a meal, unlike the old pasta salad of days gone by. And my good friend Mrs. Dash? Sorry to say but she has been replaced with not one, not two, not three, but NINE herbs and spices, including three types of pepper. It definitely has a kick to it, but the ranch and lime juice cool it down considerably, so don’t worry about the spice factor.

Absolutely glorious, no?

This isn’t a lunch I would have made during my high school days, but it’s so quick to throw together that I sure could have. And you can too… it’s great hot when first made, but it’s also fabulous chilled. I’ve been enjoying it for lunch over the past week, but I’m sure it’d be the perfect addition to your 4th of July BBQ, so I hope you enjoy!

What were your high school lunches like?

BBQ Ranch Pasta Salad [a TPC original]
click to print


  • 8 ounces whole wheat rotini
  • 3/4 cup black beans
  • 1 ear corn, kernels sliced off
  • 1 roma tomato, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/3 cup ranch
  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce [I ❤ Sweet Baby Ray’s]
  • 1/2 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped [or 1 teaspoon dried]
  • 1 tablespoon fresh pineapple sage, chopped [can use regular sage; 1 teaspoon dried]
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • pinch crushed red pepper


Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, combine corn, tomato, celery, and red bell pepper in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together ranch, barbecue sauce, lime juice, basil, sage, garlic, oregano chili powder, parsley, and peppers. After pasta is ready, add to bowl with vegetables, pour on dressing, and toss to combine.

Enjoy warm, or cover and refrigerate for two hours before serving. Refrigerate for up to one week.

Time: 20 minutes.

Yield: 8 servings.

Linked up on Life as Mom’s Ultimate Recipe Swap: Summer Salads.

13 thoughts on “BBQ Ranch Pasta Salad”

  1. We had an open high school lunch too! I lived about a half hour away from my high school by subway…so going home was definitely not happening. But I know I would have loved this pasta salad if it had!


  2. So nice that you were able to go home for lunch! I almost always sat in the hallways with my friends to eat a sack lunch, but sometimes we’d go out. My most repeated lunch is so sad–I’d go to the machines and get a bag of jalapeno potato chips and an ice cream sandwich to cool down my hot mouth after. I thought it was the perfect combo of sweet and salty, before I realized there was more to balancing a meal than taste. lol I love your pasta salad, I have it saved for future!


    1. haha that’s great! in junior high my preferred lunch was similar: mountain dew, chips, and fresh otis spunkmeyer cookies that the special ed class sold everyday… it was my $2.50 lunch ($1 each for the drink and cookies + 50 cents for the chips) & i thought it was great!!


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